The Age of Empathy Book Summary - The Age of Empathy Book explained in key points
Listen to the Intro
00:00

The Age of Empathy summary

Frans de Waal

Nature’s Lessons for a Kinder Society

4.2 (91 ratings)
14 mins

Brief summary

The Age of Empathy by Frans de Waal is an exploration of the evolutionary roots of human empathy and prosocial behavior, drawing on research in anthropology and biology. It argues for a more compassionate society based on cooperation and social bonds.

Table of Contents

    The Age of Empathy
    Summary of 6 key ideas

    Audio & text in the Blinkist app
    Key idea 1 of 6

    There is a popular but misguided tendency to view human nature as inherently selfish.

    The idea that human nature is fundamentally selfish is widespread. Even pop culture propagates this idea: “Greed is good,” proclaims Michael Douglas’s character in the 1987 movie, Wall Street. “Greed is right. Greed works. Greed clarifies, cuts through and captures the essence of the evolutionary spirit.”

    Ideas like this are popular in both cultural and political theory, and they’ve kept alive the myth that humanity is inherently self-centered.

    This notion is also backed up by the theory of Social Darwinism. Introduced by nineteenth-century British political philosopher Herbert Spencer, it offers a “survival of the fittest” outlook on life between the “haves” and the “have-nots.”

    Social Darwinism further suggests that it’s counterproductive for those who succeed in life to feel obligated to help, as they can get dragged down by those who are struggling.

    This kind of ideology has found its way into the business world as well.

    For example, in the early twentieth century, business tycoon John D. Rockefeller, Jr., regarded the expansion of big business at the expense of smaller businesses as “merely the working out of a law of nature.”

    These are all misunderstandings of human nature and are especially dangerous when they fuel self-fulfilling prophecies.

    We saw this in the notorious case of ENRON, an energy company that believed humanity was driven by two things: fear and greed. This created a horrible corporate environment as well as a brutal system ENRON called Rank and Yank, in which managers ranked employees on a five-point scale and fired anyone who received a five. This system led to 20 percent of the workforce being fired every year.

    ENRON’s cold-blooded practices extended beyond employee relations, too. In order to raise the price of energy costs, the company caused artificial blackouts and shortages, showing no concern for the harm that these tactics could cause people in elevators or on respirators.

    But this cold-hearted business philosophy eventually backfired, and ENRON collapsed in 2001.

    Want to see all full key ideas from The Age of Empathy?

    Key ideas in The Age of Empathy

    More knowledge in less time
    Read or listen
    Read or listen
    Get the key ideas from nonfiction bestsellers in minutes, not hours.
    Find your next read
    Find your next read
    Get book lists curated by experts and personalized recommendations.
    Shortcasts
    Shortcasts New
    We’ve teamed up with podcast creators to bring you key insights from podcasts.

    What is The Age of Empathy about?

    The Age of Empathy (2009) debunks popular theories which suggest that human nature is inherently selfish, cut-throat and prone to violence. Evidence provided by biology, history and science makes clear that cooperation, peace and empathy are qualities that are as natural and innate to us as our less desirable traits.

    The Age of Empathy Review

    The Age of Empathy (2009) explores the power of empathy and how it is deeply rooted in human nature. Here's why this book is definitely worth reading:

    • It presents a comprehensive analysis of empathy backed by scientific research, making it informative and thought-provoking.
    • With captivating anecdotes and examples from both animals and humans, the book offers a fascinating insight into our capacity for empathy.
    • By challenging traditional beliefs, it encourages a reevaluation of how empathy can shape our relationships, societies, and even our own well-being.

    Best quote from The Age of Empathy

    The whole effort of nature is to get rid of such [the unfit], to clear the world of them, and make room for better. - Herbert Spencer

    —Frans de Waal
    example alt text

    Who should read The Age of Empathy?

    • Anthropologists curious about human nature
    • Sociologists interested in our innate biological ability to bond with others
    • Students interested in how social science, politics, evolution and biology intersect

    About the Author

    Frans de Waal is one of the world’s most renowned primatologists. A professor at Emory University, he has authored many other books, including Primates and Philosophers, Our Inner Ape and Chimpanzee Politics. In 2007 he was named as one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people.

    Categories with The Age of Empathy

    Book summaries like The Age of Empathy

    People ❤️ Blinkist 
    Sven O.

    It's highly addictive to get core insights on personally relevant topics without repetition or triviality. Added to that the apps ability to suggest kindred interests opens up a foundation of knowledge.

    Thi Viet Quynh N.

    Great app. Good selection of book summaries you can read or listen to while commuting. Instead of scrolling through your social media news feed, this is a much better way to spend your spare time in my opinion.

    Jonathan A.

    Life changing. The concept of being able to grasp a book's main point in such a short time truly opens multiple opportunities to grow every area of your life at a faster rate.

    Renee D.

    Great app. Addicting. Perfect for wait times, morning coffee, evening before bed. Extremely well written, thorough, easy to use.

    People also liked these summaries

    4.7 Stars
    Average ratings on iOS and Google Play
    30 Million
    Downloads on all platforms
    10+ years
    Experience igniting personal growth
    Powerful ideas from top nonfiction

    Try Blinkist to get the key ideas from 7,000+ bestselling nonfiction titles and podcasts. Listen or read in just 15 minutes.

    Start your free trial

    The Age of Empathy FAQs 

    What is the main message of The Age of Empathy?

    The main message of The Age of Empathy is that empathy is a fundamental aspect of human nature, prevalent in both humans and animals.

    How long does it take to read The Age of Empathy?

    The reading time for The Age of Empathy varies depending on the reader, but it typically takes several hours. However, the Blinkist summary can be read in just 15 minutes.

    Is The Age of Empathy a good book? Is it worth reading?

    The Age of Empathy is a fascinating read that offers valuable insights into the empathetic nature of both humans and animals.

    Who is the author of The Age of Empathy?

    The author of The Age of Empathy is Frans de Waal.

    What to read after The Age of Empathy?

    If you're wondering what to read next after The Age of Empathy, here are some recommendations we suggest:
    • Social Empathy by Elizabeth Segal
    • The War For Kindness by Jamil Zaki
    • Against Empathy by Paul Bloom
    • Humility Is The New Smart by Edward D. Hess and Katherine Ludwig
    • Smile or Die by Barbara Ehrenreich
    • Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming by Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold
    • Hallelujah Anyway by Anne Lamott
    • I Thought It Was Just Me (but it isn’t) by Brené Brown
    • Influence by Robert B. Cialdini
    • A Really Good Day by Ayelet Waldman